Headline of the game: Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense couldn’t be entering the postseason in better form
The Bills are winners of six consecutive games since their Week 11 bye, and they’ve progressed to the point that many view them as the top challenger to the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC. A lot of that has to do with just how easy Allen and the offense are making things look.
The third-year quarterback enters the postseason as the fifth-highest-graded passer in the NFL — a massive improvement over his performance a year ago. The Bills enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed because of Allen’s play rather than in spite of it. Add in a top-10-graded pass-blocking unit, two of the top-15-graded wide receivers in the NFL (Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley), John Brown getting back to full health and a Brian Daboll scheme that has all those components operating efficiently. Now, you’re talking about a team that can challenge Kansas City offensively.
The Bills will go up against a Matt Eberflus defense that has played well this season — ranking 11th in expected points added (EPA) allowed per play — but the Dolphins’ defense had played well before the fireworks we saw last week in Buffalo. If the Bills aren’t beating themselves with mistakes and turnovers, they’re going to be a tough out in the playoffs.
The Colts defense hardly stands a chance of slowing down the red-hot Josh Allen, who ranks No. 1 among QBs in fantasy points per game (27.9) and No. 2 in expected fantasy points per game (23.2) since Week 13 despite playing limited snaps last week.
Indianapolis has fallen from its impressive start on defense in 2020. The Colts have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points and third-most passing yards to opposing QBs over the past four weeks. They have also faced by far the highest rate of passing plays (74%), all but ensuring the Bills will continue to throw all over the yard.
That makes Allen worth paying up for at $7,500 on DraftKings. It also makes Stefon Diggs the ideal stacking partner — he has by far the highest target share (34%) on the Saturday slate with Allen at QB in the team’s last four games.
John Brown also looks like a screaming value at $4,700 because he is locked in for all the snaps opposite Diggs in the playoffs. He ran a route on 89% of Allen’s dropbacks on Sunday. In one half, he caught all four of his passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Jonathan Taylor will be likely the most popular player on the slate, and for good reason coming off a 250-yard rushing game. No team has a more favorable OL/DL matchup than the Colts’ running game this week — by a landslide.
The only way Taylor doesn’t get there is if the Colts fall behind quickly and turn to Nyheim Hines as the primary pass-catcher. But even in that scenario, Taylor isn’t totally phased out of the offense, as he has shown to be involved in the passing game this season. He has 36 catches to date.
The market has been split on the early-week betting action for the first wild-card game of 2021. This game initially opened at -7, with books offering that number juiced heavily toward the Colts or -6.5 with added juice on the Bills’ side.
The cash and ticket percentages are also split to start the week, but bettors seem more willing to back the Colts on the moneyline than the +6.5 number. This makes sense due to the value lost in dropping off 7, with PFF Greenline finding similar value when comparing the moneyline to the spread.
Both defenses sit in the top 10 of our opponent-adjusted grades, yet this game has the second-highest total this weekend. Meanwhile, the Colts sit right outside the top 10 in EPA generated per pass play, with the Bills third overall.
Our predictive models would typically side with the efficient offense winning out against a stout defense, but our lean toward the under opens up quite a few betting opportunities. If the game doesn’t play over the 52.5-point total, it’s tough to envision the Bills being able to cover a touchdown spread. According to the early-week writeup, this is a potential teaser spot, but PFF Greenline also finds plenty of value in the game markets.
Headline of the game: Brandon Staley’s defense needs to be as dominant as it has been for much of this season
This is one of two games in this round of the playoffs that we’ve already seen twice this season. The Rams beat the Seahawks by a touchdown back in Week 10 before losing to Seattle 20-9 two weeks ago in a game that carried significant weight toward which team would host this game.
Holding Seattle to 36 combined points in those two games is a strong outcome, given what we saw from the Seahawks’ offense early in the season, but the truth is that this hasn’t been that same offense over the second half of the campaign. The Seahawks rank just 17th in expected points added per play since Week 10, while the Rams’ defense ranks second in EPA allowed per play over that same stretch, behind only Washington.
Defense in today’s NFL is largely about minimizing weaknesses that opposing offenses can exploit rather than honing in on a few key strengths, but the Rams have two of the better strengths in the league in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Donald is coming off a 2020 regular season where his 98 pressures are over 20 more than any other defender, and Ramsey has allowed just 309 passing yards into his coverage across 581 coverage snaps this year.
The Rams will need another strong effort from those two because Los Angeles’ offense is on much shakier ground heading into the postseason.
It’s going to be a tough task for Russell Wilson and company to score points against an extremely tough Los Angeles Rams defense. The team has averaged just 18 total points, and Wilson has averaged just 15.9 fantasy points per game, in the two prior matchups this season.
Chris Carson probably doesn’t have a great chance of returning value at $5,900 because of his current timeshare in the offense and the bad matchup. Los Angeles has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to RBs over the past four weeks, and Rashaad Penny ($4K) played just two fewer snaps last week. Alex Collins was involved toward the end of the game and saw plenty of work in the red zone.
It makes little to no sense to pay more for Carson when salary can be saved by paying for the superior option in Cam Akers ($5,100). He is the clear workhorse in this backfield and Sean McVay seems dead set on feeding him no matter what.
He is locked into a 20-25 touch workload, so he’s worth it even in a tough matchup. Seattle has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to RBs over the past four weeks.
L.A. has put all of its focus on trying to stop Metcalf in the team’s recent matchups, while Lockett has averaged a quiet 12.1 expected fantasy points per game.
But if you're willing to embrace the risk in DFS tournaments, Metcalf would be the play because he will likely come drastically under-owned because of the tough WR/CB matchup with Jalen Ramsey. We know he can deliver huge upside on just one or two catches.
The Seahawks have also made the conscious effort to move Metcalf around the formation to escape the coverage of Ramsey. When these teams first played (Week 10), Metcalf’s formation alignments were as follows: slot (25%), LWR (55%) RWR (20%). He finished with two catches for 28 yards.
In the next matchup (Week 16), Metcalf’s formation alignments were slot (36%), LWR (28%) and RWR (34%). He finished with six catches for 59 yards while playing a season-high in snaps from the slot (22). Don’t overlook Metcalf, who has now been priced cheaper than Lockett at $6.7K.
For Rams wide receivers, Josh Reynolds projects as potential top value based on averaging 10 targets and 15.2 fantasy points per game in his two games versus the Seahawks this season.
These two NFC West rivals run it back for the third time, with the betting market offering the widest spread compared to previous matchups. This could indicate some uncertainty surrounding Jared Goff‘s availability or even being effective if he does suit up. John Wolford looked respectable in his first game action of 2020, as he at least showed the desire to target receivers downfield, a trait that is evidenced by his high average depth of target (aDot).
The Rams’ defense is the best in the NFL, and it helped a banged-up Rams team to a comfortable win against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17. The Seahawks, on the other hand, won their final regular-season game after finally letting Russell Wilson cook in the fourth quarter, but it’s safe to say they have moved away from their early-season passing ratio.
Seattle's late-season struggles aren’t entirely Wilson’s fault, but his PFF passing grade has dropped by 22.4 points since Week 8. He has one passing game grade over 90.0 during the latter half of the season after starting the season with three in the first four games.
The 42.5-point total appears to be way too low, given how effective these offenses have played at points this season. The backup quarterback angle, and Wilson falling off a clip angle, have propelled this number down — their first matchup sat at 55 with a 47.5-point print appearing ahead of the following game.
PFF Greenline finds betting value on all three game markets, making this one of the best games to bet in the wild-card round.
Headline of the game: Can Washington impact Tom Brady with the pass rush?
The Buccaneers’ offense — specifically the Buccaneers’ passing offense — has looked near unstoppable in recent weeks. An important caveat to point out is that Tampa Bay has faced Minnesota, Atlanta (twice) and Detroit in the four games since their Week 13 bye. All three of those defenses field below-average pass rushes and below-average pass defenses overall.
The pass rush is the area to key in on here in this match up. While Brady has enjoyed a successful first season to this point with the Buccaneers, pressure has proven to be the main thing capable of throwing him off his game. Brady’s 115.1 passer rating from a clean pocket (seventh out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks) drops to 54.5 when pressured (23rd).
Washington has a defensive front that is clearly capable of causing disruption. A lot of the headlines have gone to the edge duo of Montez Sweat and Chase Young, but Jonathan Allen deserves more credit as the team’s most consistent pass-rusher. Allen's 17.0% pass-rush win rate is a top-10 mark at the interior defender position on the year. If he and the rest of Washington’s pass rush can consistently get to Brady, the Football Team has a shot at pulling off the upset at home.
The matchup between the Buccaneers and the Football Team will be a quintessential strength-on-strength battle when Tampa Bay’s offense is on the field.
Tom Brady leads the league in deep-ball attempts, completions, yards, TDs, and is top-five in deep-ball adjusted completion rate and passer rating over the last six weeks. Brady has also thrived from a clean pocket (most passing yards, second-most passing touchdowns), but this aligns with what the WFT does best.
Washington ranks eighth in pressure rate (37%), third in explosive pass play percentage allowed (9.4%) and No. 1 in fewest yards per attempt allowed (5.5) over the same period.
Brady’s passer rating under pressure this season (54.5) ranks 28th out of 42 qualifying QBs.
Because this game hardly previews as a shootout — 45.5 projected total — this might be a spot where Brady is best faded at an inflated $6,900 price tag.
But there are still one-off pieces that this game can still offer to DFS players. The best value is J.D. McKissic, who owns a 19% target share over the last four weeks. It’s insane for a running back to see that type of volume.
The matchup could also not be better versus the “RB funnel” Buccaneers defense. Tampa Bay has allowed the most receptions to running backs this season.
When Alex Smith has been under center this season, McKissic has been his most targeted receiving option (24% target share).
The matchup also favors tight end Logan Thomas, who leads his team in end-zone targets (four), air yards share (26%) and target share (26%) the last four weeks. The volume should be there for Thomas to at worst put up a “floor” performance, as Tampa has allowed the sixth-most catches to tight ends since Week 14.
But Thomas’ true upside may be limited due to the QB situation in Washington and the lack of touchdown equity he may see. The Bucs have faced just two end-zone targets to TEs (second-fewest) in the past month.
Because Thomas is one of the higher-priced TE options ($4,900), there’s a case to be made to target cheaper options at the position if it can make the overall roster construction better.
The 9.5-point opening spread quickly disappeared, as we have moved to a teaser-friendly number. Buccaneers backers seem to have re-emerged, though, as 71% of the tickets and 64% of the cash have fallen on Tampa Bay. The splits are even more extreme on the moneyline, as no one is taking the price on the heavy home dog.
This game features our sixth- and third-ranked defensive units, which makes most assume that this game will be decided by the defense. Tampa Bay has a significant discrepancy in offensive ranking, which will most likely be the actual differentiator in this contest.
Covering the spread is all that we are concerned with, however, and PFF Greenline appears to be buying into Washington to start the week. It’s possible that they aren’t as bad as their ranking (25th) appears, as they finally have their full complement of offensive weapons back.
Leaning toward Washington has at least been the direction of the line movement, making it the correct side before we cross any key numbers.
Headline of the game: Both rushing attacks will look to control the game in a rematch of last season’s divisional-round contest
In a league where offenses continue to lean more heavily on the pass, these are two of the NFL’s teams most reliant on rushing the football, and both do it well. Tennessee leads the league in run rate on early downs in the first three quarters of games, at 55% — a subset of plays meant to add in some control for the situation. Baltimore follows close behind at 51% (fourth-highest in the NFL). The two squads just so happen to rank first (Ravens) and second (Titans) in expected points added per run play by a sizable margin this season.
For the Ravens, everything revolves around Lamar Jackson and the threat he poses on the ground. His 122 conversions as a runner since the start of the 2019 season are over 40 more than any other quarterback in the league and rank fourth among all players — behind only Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook and the linchpin of Tennessee’s rushing attack, Derrick Henry.
Fresh off a 2,000-yard season, Henry enters the 2020 postseason as PFF’s highest-graded rusher. His 1,490 rushing yards after contact would be more than any other running back in the NFL had total this season, aside from Cook. Quite simply, he is a physical freak who is just as capable of running through defenders as he is breaking away from them, and he’s paired that ability with a really good feel in the Titans’ run scheme.
You can rest assured that both teams will look to control things on the ground, but ultimately, it may come down to which of Jackson or Ryan Tannehill can get things going through the air to decide the outcome.
Marquise Brown is the player to roster among the Ravens. The Titans defense has given up the most fantasy points among the playoff teams. This is partially why Lamar Jackson is the highest-priced quarterback and Mark Andrews is the highest-priced tight end. Both should do well, but the biggest weakness for the Titans is allowing fantasy points to wide receivers.
Brown is priced at $5,400 for the week. He has caught six touchdowns over the last six weeks and is averaging 6.8 targets per game in that time. Tennessee allowed Brandin Cooks to catch 11 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns last week, Davante Adams 142 yards on 11 catches and three touchdowns the week before and Marvin Jones Jr. 112 yards on 10 catches and a touchdown the week before that. Top wide receivers are bound to do well against this Titans defense.
A Titans tight end should put up good numbers against this Ravens defense. In the last five weeks, they allowed at least 40 receiving yards to Evan Engram, Tyler Eifert, David Njoku and Dalton Schultz. The Titans’ receiving tight ends are at least more talented than this group, but the question is which one to trust.
Jonnu Smith is the player to have if the Titans are tied or winning. Smith has run 73 more routes than Anthony Firkser when Tennessee has a lead or is tied. Seven of Smith’s eight touchdowns occurred during this time.
When the Titans are behind, Firkser has run more routes than Smith this season. That’s led to three more catches for 32 more yards. Smith’s price tag is $3,200 while Firkser is at $2,700. Vegas is giving the edge to the Ravens, making Firkser arguably the better value.
The highest total and shortest spread point to this being the most entertaining matchup of the wild-card round. The spread briefly opened at +4.5 before almost immediately dropping a full point. The juice has started to pop up on the +3.5, which should indicate a test of 3 at some point this week.
Most are convinced that the Ravens have finally returned to form, as PFF’s ELO rankings have them in the top five. The Titans sit six places behind but have the better offense by a bigger margin. Having the better offensive unit and the quarterback with a better PFF passing grade is a spot that our model will always side toward. Having them at just a 37.7% implied win probability is always going to open up value on the moneyline. There are a few different game markets offering value, which is an early-week spot to lock up before further line movement dries up the opportunities.
Headline of the game: Saints look to avoid second consecutive early playoff exit at the hands of an NFC North underdog
Here we are again in the wild-card round with the Saints settling in as a heavy favorite over an NFC North wild-card team. New Orleans will be hoping for a better result in this game than its 26-20 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings in last year’s playoffs.
Sitting in the Saints’ favor is the fact that they’ll be facing off against Mitchell Trubisky and a Chicago offense that has looked inept for much of the season. Even in his “hot stretch” from Weeks 13 to 16 against some of the worst defenses in the NFL, Trubisky’s 61.2 passing grade ranked just 25th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks. The discourse surrounding whether he has turned the corner to earn a potential extension will likely only continue if the Bears win this game, but his play doesn’t suggest he has done so — backing up the fact that Chicago opens as roughly a 10-point underdog.
Trubisky will also get handed a Saints defense that enters the postseason a top-10 unit in expected points added allowed per play despite a rough start to the season where the unit was routinely torched for big plays through the air thanks to miscommunications and penalties. The road to the upset won’t be easy for Chicago, but we’ve seen stranger things happen this season.
David Montgomery is a running back to avoid this week. He’s averaging 100 rushing yards per game over the last six weeks, including seven rushing touchdowns in that time. Montgomery deserves plenty of credit for his performance, but a lot of it is thanks to the defenses he’s faced. All six teams he’s faced in that stretch rank in the top six in allowing fantasy points to running backs.
The Saints, on the other hand, have been the top team at preventing fantasy points to running backs. The Saints defense allowed 89 yards to Montgomery in the middle of the season, but only one back has reached that mark against the Saints since then. Half the starting backs to face them haven’t topped 50 rushing yards. Montgomery is the fourth-most expensive back this week at $6,900, but there are more intriguing cheaper options.
Cole Kmet is an option for the Bears at tight end at $3,000. He has 29 targets over the last five weeks. Seven tight ends had more than him in that span, but only one of those seven is playing this weekend.
Everything points to Jared Cook having an even better game, although his price is higher at $4,600. His playing time has increased in recent weeks outside of their most recent blowout victory. He’s been given at least four targets in the last five games, leading to three touchdowns in that time. If anything, the Saints have rested their 33-year-old tight end, so he’s ready for the playoffs.
A big reason for the optimism this week is that he’s facing the Bears defense. Eight different tight ends have gained at least 50 yards against them, and 12 have scored touchdowns. Only three of the top 12 fantasy tight ends on the season are playing this weekend, so good options at the position are limited.
Most bettors are projecting a blowout in the biggest mismatch of the wild-card round. New Orleans immediately moved out from a -9.5 spread, with forward-looking books already out to -10.5. Roughly 40% of the cash and ticket percentages have decided to back Mitchell Trubisky, which is the only playable side at this inflated number. The Bears’ offense is in the bottom half of our opponent-adjusted grades, with the Saints sitting 10 places ahead. Chicago still looks to be undervalued in this matchup, but waiting for the best number could provide further value later in the week.
An even better opportunity can be found on the total, which is the third-highest of the weekend. The cash and ticket percentages are in disagreement, which means the majority of bigger bettors appear to be favoring the under. This is actually counter to where PFF Greenline leans, as there is the smallest amount of value on the over 48. It could be difficult for the Saints to cover the wide spread if this game doesn’t provide enough scoring to go over.
Headline of the game: Pittsburgh needs to continue to take shots downfield and add more diversity to its passing attack
The Steelers aren’t entering the playoffs with the same kind of negativity that surrounded the team just a few weeks ago thanks to a comeback against the Colts in Week 16 and a solid effort from the backups against this same Cleveland team in Week 17, but there are still reasons to be concerned about their offense.
Ben Roethlisberger has avoided the intermediate range of 10-19 yards downfield more than nearly any other quarterback in the league this season. It has been a heavy dose of short, quick passes — evidenced by a league-high 59% of Roethlisberger’s passes targeting players short of the first down marker — with the deep shots coming almost exclusively in the form of go balls down the sideline. Paired with the worst rushing attack in the NFL from a yards per play standpoint, the Steelers’ offense is limited.
The turnaround against Indianapolis was due in large part to Roethlisberger having more success on his downfield throws. He hit three of four passes targeting players 20 or more yards downfield for 98 yards and two scores. Mason Rudolph continued that trend this past week by completing four passes 20 or more yards downfield — more than Roethlisberger has completed in a single game this season. The Steelers’ ability to open up the Browns’ defense with those throws will be key in this game.
The Steelers’ trio of wide receivers lead the way as good values for this week. Diontae Johnson is the most expensive of the group at $6,200, while JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool are more of a bargain at $5,500 and $5,200, respectively. All three put up solid numbers a week ago against Cleveland despite having Mason Rudolph at quarterback.
Claypool led the way with five catches on 11 targets and a touchdown. Smith-Schuster also caught a touchdown while gaining 65 yards. Johnson gained 96. All of the players have a chance for a better game with Ben Roethlisberger throwing to them.
Claypool could be the best option of the group. Pittsburgh had rested him in recent weeks to prevent him from hitting a rookie wall, so he should be ready to be unleashed in the playoffs. He led the Steelers in targets last week, and he is the cheapest option of the three.
The Browns offense will have problems. The pass game was held under 200 total yards last week, and that was with the Steelers resting some key defenders. Nick Chubb was able to run for 108 yards on 14 carries, but Pittsburgh rested its top two run defenders, while the Browns will be without their Pro Bowl left guard, Joel Bitonio. Bitonio is PFF’s second-highest graded run blocker. It’s possible more offensive linemen could be out for Cleveland depending on contact tracing.
When Cleveland and Pittsburgh faced off earlier in the season, the Browns didn’t have Chubb. Their trio of running backs gained 70 yards on 21 attempts. The Browns weren’t able to run as much as they’d like because they were down, and the game script could be similar this time around.
The nightcap has seen one-sided betting action to start the week. After opening at -3.5, the spread quickly jumped out to -4.5 — with a couple of lesser-known books already printing -5. Some 61% of the cash and 68% of the tickets are on the Steelers, as the early-week bettors aren’t impressed with a Browns team that couldn’t beat the Steelers’ backups handily last weekend.
PFF Greenline offers a clear lean in this matchup, as Cleveland has the significantly better opponent-adjusted offensive ranking and quarterback. Siding against the market isn’t a comfortable feeling, but it’s one of the only ways to find value this late in the season. Pittsburgh could finally be getting close to correctly valued by the betting market, but our predictive models still don’t buy into the team’s sustainable success.